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Prince of Dreams
Nancy McKenzie
Del Rey, 417 pages

Art: George Kerrigan
Prince of Dreams
Nancy McKenzie
Nancy McKenzie's novels include The Child Queen (1994), The High Queen (1995), Queen of Camelot (2002) and Grail Prince (2003).

Nancy McKenzie Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Cindy Lynn Speer

Tristan and Essylte. The names recall an Arthurian romance that rivals even the story of Guinevere and Lancelot. And like Guinevere and Lancelot, it begins innocently enough. A trusted warrior is sent to fetch the bride of his king, and they fall passionately in love at first sight.

But it's not quite that simple. High King Markion would not wear the crown that unites all of England if not for the bravery of his nephew, Tristan. In return he is given the crown of Lyoness, which he has been promised for years. Tristan admires King Mark and wants to support him to keep alive the work that Arthur accomplished before his death -- keeping all of England united. Soon he begins to suspect that his loyalty is not returned. King Mark is jealous of his power, and not just because he wants to turn the crown over to his son and found a dynasty of high kings, but because he fears that Tristan, should he take the throne, will eclipse him, and King Mark will be forgotten while Tristan remembered forever. He, with the help of his slimy advisor, will make some plans for Tristan that are meant to take care of that little problem for good...

Meanwhile, we get to know Essylte. At first she comes off as very willful, but then we meet her mother, a Druidess of great talent who is determined that her beautiful daughter will never get the power she so desperately worked to achieve. As the daughter of the only other candidate for high king, Percival, her marriage to Mark would be advantageous for all. But when she sees Tristan, she can't help her despairing passion for him. Even as she and her maid servant and only friend Branwen make their trip to Cornwall and Mark, she losses her heart -- and other things -- utterly to Tristan.

Most of us know the inevitable end of the story. It is, after all, a tragedy because rarely do happy endings become legend. But as one sees the intrigues that surround the couple we can not help but read on, and hope they manage to extricate themselves from the snares. Even Branwen has plans for power, and Mark's advisor, Segward, constantly plans Tristan's fall.

Prince of Dreams is extremely well researched novel, capturing the history of this time while re-creating the myth. It's hard to combine myth and fact, to bend history to the tale, but Nancy McKenzie does a marvelous job, creating a narrative that feels real. It is also interesting because the Arthurian matter usually ends with his death. But seeing the aftermath of his life (and, in a way, seeing that the main people of his story, remembered well by the people who have come after are already retreating into myth) brings a new edge to the tale that allows us to enjoy an Arthurian retelling while still having a different story.

Copyright © 2004 Cindy Lynn Speer

Cindy Lynn Speer loves books so much that she's designed most of her life around them, both as a librarian and a writer. Her books aren't due out anywhere soon, but she's trying. You can find her site at

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